There’s nothing better during the holidays than a light, delicious and tasty dish as a bit of a break from all the rich food, whether you happen to be in the warm southern hemisphere or in the very cold northern hemisphere. Alice came through with a great dish last week with her lettuce wraps. And she inspired me to attempt one of my favorite foods – Summer Rolls, sometimes known as Spring Rolls – that heretofore had been reserved for dining out at my favorite Vietnamese restaurant because they seemed too complicated to make at home. As it turns out, they are not that difficult to make and with a little practice, these rolls are just as good as they are at the restaurant.
I was introduced to these delicious rolls quite a few years ago by my friends Dee and Bernt and their daughter Lydia, who LOVED these rolls from babyhood. So guess who I’ll be having over to dinner soon??
You may need to get a few special ingredients such as rice paper, cellophane noodles and fish sauce to make this dish, but you can just use as much as you need for your meal and most of the ingredients will save for another making. I was able to find all of these ingredients at my local supermarket.
If you haven’t tried fish sauce, you are in for a treat. It’s pretty smelly and strong tasting on its own, but mixed with the lime juice and sugar, it becomes a tasty dipping sauce. Fish sauce can also be added to tomato sauces or meat dishes or event guacamole in small quantities to add a richness of flavor.
First, mix up the dipping sauce.
Mix together the lime juice, fish sauce (which I found at my neighborhood grocery store), sugar and either Thai chili peppers or chili garlic sauce to taste. I like mine spicy, so I used a teaspoon full of the chili sauce. Let it chill in the fridge while you make the rolls. Right before serving, chop up some cilantro (coriander to those of you outside the US) and toss it in the sauce.
Then prepare all of your fillings – chop the cucumber into matchstick-sized pieces (my matches are JUMBO)
Then cut your carrots the same size
Cover the cellophane noodles with hot water and let them soften for about 10 minutes while you finish your prep. Once they are softened, you’ll need to drop them into a bowl with ice water to stop them from cooking further.
Halve your shrimp. I had peeled frozen, pre-cooked shrimp, so I thawed as many as I needed, removed the tails and cut them in half lengthwise.
Once you have all your ingredients ready, fill a pie pan with warm water, pull out your rice paper and get ready to roll (literally).
Drop a single rice paper round into the warm water, turn it around a few times with your hand. It should be softened in 15-20 seconds. I found that when it was starting to feel a bit pliable and I was able to pull it toward the middle with my fingers that it was ready.
Pull the round out of the water and place it carefully on your working surface. I used my larger cutting board as my rolling surface.
Place three halves of shrimp in a row in the middle of the circle, top with the herbs, veggies, cellophane noodles and lettuce.
Then fold the bottom of the circle up and over the filling and tuck and pull the filling tight, carefully, so you don’t tear it. Tuck the sides over the ends of the cylinder and roll the rest of the way up. The tighter you get it, the easier it is to hold on to while you’re eating it.
Don’t overfill your roll with the ingredients. THIS is what happens when you overfill.
When you’ve made enough, it’s time to eat them! Word to the wise, don’t attempt to cut the roll in half as most of the filling falls right out. It still tastes really good, but is quite messy to try to eat and the filling keeps dropping out of the roll into the sauce.
This makes a lovely appetizer before dinner, although at my house, this was a very satisfying dinner.
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons fish sauce (such as nam pla or nuoc nam)
3 tablespoons sugar
2 fresh red Thai chiles thinly sliced or 1/2 teaspoon of chili garlic sauce
Mix all ingredients in a medium bowl. Cover and chill.
4 ounces cellophane noodles (also known as bean thread noodles)
12 8″-9″ rice paper rounds
18 cooked medium shrimp (about 10 ounces), peeled, deveined, halved lengthwise
1 cup fresh basil leaves
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves plus 1 tablespoon chopped
1 cup fresh mint leaves
1 cup English hothouse cucumber, cut into matchstick-size pieces
1 cup carrot, cut into matchstick-size pieces
12 small butter lettuce leaves
Put noodles in a large bowl. Pour enough hot water over to cover; let stand until softened, about 10 minutes. Drain. Transfer to a large bowl of ice water to cool; drain and set aside.
Fill a pie plate with warm water. Working with 1 rice paper round at a time, soak rice paper in water, turning occasionally, until just pliable but not limp, about 15-20 seconds. Transfer to your work surface. Arrange 3 shrimp halves across center of round. Top with some leaves of each herb, cucumber and carrot. Arrange a small handful of noodles over. Place 1 lettuce leaf over, torn or folded to fit. Fold bottom of rice paper over filling, then fold in ends and roll like a burrito into a tight cylinder. Transfer roll, seam side down, to a platter. Repeat to make 11 more rolls. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and refrigerate if not serving immediately.